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PIPE DREAMS

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The420Guy

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You can go to jail for seven years for growing
marijuana in Japan. (Second-degree murder gets you
only three years). So why is Yasunao Nakayama, 39,
driving around Japan in a car powered by hemp oil,
hawking dope-derived products?

With the exception of researchers, Nakayama is the
first person in Japan since the end of World War II to
be given official permission to cultivate weed for
commercial and experimental uses. The license allows
him to run a half-acre farm and to sell any marijuana
derivatives, except for the intoxicating buds and
leaves. It's also his green light to proselytize on
behalf of hemp.

"There is no other plant with such a broad variety of
uses," he says. Among them: clothing, soap, fuel,
paper, building materials, medicine, liquor and, using
flour from the inside of seeds, noodles. Nakayama
sells a handful of such goods to bring in $3,300 a
month in revenue. He lives modestly in a yurt, a giant
Mongolian tent, on Oshima, an underdeveloped island an
hour and a half by boat from Tokyo. "The business will
get big later, after I have finished promoting hemp,"
he says. Meantime he is lobbying the government to
turn Oshima into a special hemp zone to promote
tourism and sustainable development and, he argues
most improbably, to help prevent abuse.

Good luck. Shiozuki Kiuchi, head of narcotics policy
at the Ministry of Health & Welfare, represents
Japan's official view of marijuana: "It is highly
addictive, people can't quit, it causes brain damage
and it makes youth antisocial." Arrests have increased
by 60% over the last three years; dope-smoking raves
among the young are on the rise, Kiuchi says, and are
spreading to older crowds.

Yet pot once played an important role in ritual and
commerce. Before Japan's occupation by U.S. forces,
which imposed antinarcotics laws, at least 200,000
farm households cultivated hemp. During World War II
Japanese imperial army soldiers were permitted to
smoke marijuana to ease the stress of battle. Hemp was
once burned in special urns to help Shinto priests in
their divinations. Its smoke also symbolized the
passing of the spirit of the old emperor to the new
one. When Emperor Hirohito died in 1989, his successor
had to plant hemp seeds to produce a crop that would
provide fiber for special clothing to be worn during
the succession ceremony.

It was to such tradition, as well as to a little-known
clause in the drug laws allowing licensed farmers to
grow marijuana for nonnarcotic purposes, that Nakayama
appealed when applying for his license. Officials in
Shizuoka prefecture were shocked at the request, and
he was called in to explain himself before a committee
of five very suspicious men. Nakayama presented his
case, mentioning seeds found in a 12,000-year-old
archaeological site, the traditions of the imperial
household and the threat that an aspect of the culture
was in danger of extinction. The panel bumped up the
request to the governor, who granted Nakayama his
license.

Perhaps that exception has gone to his head. Nakayama
is on a mission to turn pot into a major industrial
crop for Japan. He points to research by Ford Motor,
begun in 1929, on a hemp car. Don't believe it? The
results were published in Popular Mechanics in 1941--a
steel chassis with a body consisting of hemp fiber and
plastic made from hemp resin. Although the car was
tough and lightweight, it was not cost-competitive and
the project was dropped. No talks with Toyota or Honda
yet. But Nakayama is high on promoting hemp-based
gasoline, extracted by pressing the seeds into oil; he
is convinced that its costs of production, now
projected at four to five times the cost of diesel
fuel, can be drastically reduced. Then there are
plastics and building materials, which now cost 1.5
times what those derived from petroleum do. "The world
is very interesting when viewed through the lens of
hemp," he says. Indeed.


Thu Sep 11, 6:34 PM ET
FORBES.COM
By Benjamin Fulford
 
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